I started my PhD in 2008 as a mid-career professional, having already worked for several years in Iran and a few years in Afghanistan. Due to my previous experience, I realized that I wanted to continue working with children. I also wanted to work on Iran as I thought my local knowledge would be a key advantage for the study.
Back then I was working for UNICEF, so I started my PhD as a part-time GPAC² fellow. Around the same time UNICEF introduced its global study on child poverty. I was working on that in Iran and I thought focusing on the project in parallel with my PhD could benefit me (as I was in touch with government authorities in various sectors) as well as UNICEF (as the global study needed data analysis and I could work on it myself).
Government authorities were also interested in the project. A short time before that, the Ministry of Social Welfare had been established to coordinate social policy across various sectors for different sections of society. It was acknowledged that a holistic approach is the key in developing social policies. Therefore, they liked the idea of multi-dimensional poverty analysis and combining monetary and non-monetary dimensions.
The authorities realized that different focus and policy design is important in order to improve disparity across regions. Development agencies and international organisations were asked to focus on those disparity areas. Research on multidimensional child poverty could provide holistic evidence to policy makers.
New approaches, new perspectives
I decided to do my PhD at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance because I had already attended the courses they had (in partnership with UNICEF) on social policy. I liked their approach in teaching that course, and found the methods and resources they had both innovative and liberal. The idea of Problem Based Learning was very appealing to me, and I appreciated their focus on evidence based policy making.
Like many PhD fellows I changed my proposal and concepts that I was using for my research a few times. I consulted various scholars and experts from Iran and also other countries when I was developing the conceptual framework. Therefore, next to my supervisors, I had a few key people who were a great inspiration to me throughout my work.
My PhD research was a very rewarding and satisfying period of my life. I had my happy and not so happy times when I was doing the literature review and data analysis. Working on children’s issues and concepts like poverty is not easy. Poverty is bitter in general but when it comes to children it makes it even more difficult to keep it only as “research”. When I was working in some specific parts of my thesis I would become so emotional that I had to pause, reflect and continue working again.
My thesis “Childhoods embargoed” is all about that journey. I claim it as a first research on Iranian children that has examined children as a social group, and childhood and child poverty as a socio-cultural and political construction. It is about disparities that may not be so big in number but are of a kind that are persistent and chronic, and therefore more difficult to resolve.
I defended my PhD in June 2013. This was also my year in that I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and I cannot see myself as ‘one’ without her anymore. I defended only two weeks before I delivered and as one of my friends put it, she can also claim to have defended with me.
I am now doing my post-doc research at the University of Groningen on multi-dimensional child health and nutrition. In fact nutrition and health was what was missing in my research on Iran. Although my current research is not about Iran, I am happy I have this opportunity to work on nutrition and health and I hope that one day I can contribute to those dimensions in the Iranian context too.
Images by UNICEF, UNU / H.Pijpers